Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Justin Timberlake ‘Man of the Woods’ – Review

9 Feb

The knives are out for Justin Timberlake, and have been for a while. 2015’s inescapable ‘Can’t stop the feeling ‘ was generally treated with scorn by mean spirited critics, despite being statistically the year’s most popular song. And even before a note of ‘Man of the Woods’ was heard, The Outline published a scathing takedown of the album’s concept, based largely on the presumption that Timberlake was ditching Hip Hop and r&b sounds in favour of more traditionally white ones. Such a simplification, and misreading, of the artistic thought process patronises Timberlake, his collaborators and his achievements. Yet such criticism makes headlines and appeals all too easily to a right on readership ready to shoot down easy targets. It’s not Timberlake’s fault that in the years following the mostly well received ’20/20 Experience’ he’s walked in to a world where concepts like white privilege, ‘me too’ and cultural appropriation can straight jacket someone of his standing before he even opens his mouth to sing. To many, Timberlake’s sin is merely existing and thriving.

But Timberlake isn’t interested in joining in a political conversation. ‘Man of the Woods’ is an insular, personal record about family and nature and contentment that shuns politics and the wider world in general. And as much as I’d like to offer this review as a defence of his right to make exactly the kind of art he feels justified (excuse the pun) in making, I’m afraid this is where I have to change tact. You see i actually agree that ‘Man of the Woods’ is a pretty bad album – just not for the presumptuous reasons outlined above.

Of course ‘Man of the Woods’ is as polished as you’d expect from anything involving Pharel Williams and Timbaland but it sounds more amateurish than any project they’ve been involved in before. Who knows the factors at play behind that – perhaps, and this may be a patronising ‘perhaps’ – they ceded more responsibility to Timberlake himself. Or perhaps after years at the forefront of innovation, they have simply lost the magic touch. It happens to the best of us. Regardless, the consensus is in and very few people are happy. Aside from the divisive themes and cliched production choices, it disappoints for more traditional reasons: Melodies that strain rather than glide. Lyrics that scan as pretentious rather than empathetic. Hooks that don’t hook. Busy arrangements that do all the heavy lifting. Songs that feel, and often sound, disjointed and badly fused. Songs have been missing the mark for these reasons since the beginning of time.

‘MOTW’ is thematically cohesive but backtracks on the daring ambition of ‘The 20/20 Experience’, arguably the most inventive pop record of the last decade. The 20 songs on that mammoth album stretched out to encompass many moods, tempos and styles with extended running times that allowed for both playful frolicking and serious reflection. He still tries to cram all that in to ‘Man of the Woods’ but everything feels shrunken in comparison. ‘Midnight Summer Jam’, easily the grooviest song on her, feels restricted just as it’s getting in to the swing of things. Likewise, mid album momentum is crippled by a handful of snoozy half-ballads. Ironically, it is a case of too much and not enough.

Sometimes in pop music, the sharpest hooks can dig out the biggest holes. That’s what happened on Timberlake’s ‘Justified’ where the insane brilliance of the four singles showed up the album tracks in comparison (a lesson he learnt on the hook extravaganzas ‘Future Sex/Love Sound’ and ’20/20 experience’ where there was very little driftwood). ‘Man of the Woods’ in comparison is full of holes, but these ones weren’t carved out by hooks. In fact the album is oddly short of them. First single ‘Filthy’ was forgettable, and best understood as an experimental palette cleanser. But then came ‘Supplies’, the most embarrassingly inept major pop single I can remember this side of the last Katy Perry album. The song’s cringeworthy extended metaphor highlights all of Timberlake’s most notorious shortcomings as a lyricist, and unlike, say, ‘Sexy Back’ or ‘Pusher Love Girl’, he doesn’t use humour or cheekiness to get away with it. The album’s lyrics are often trite, banal, silly, corny and even creepy. His pretentious performances determine the listener’s response, and these lyrics are treated too seriously by Timberlake to be dismissed as careless pop cheese.

You certainly can’t accuse him of burying the lede. Song titles are as ‘duh’ obvious as ‘Flannel Shirt’, ‘Montana’, ‘Livin off the Land’, ‘Breeze on the Pond’ ‘Man of the Woods’ etc but sadly this isn’t a particularly rootsy or raw album. Highlights from past records indicate that Timberlake could benefit from a more natural, instinctual approach; but with one or two exceptions the songs on ‘MOTW’ feel stilted by over-production. Stacked harmonies, glitchy effects, convulsing beats, layered synth-lines – they’ve always been a part of Timberlake’s sound but here they feel like the safe retreat of a heavy hand. The simple, soulful approach of ‘Higher, Higher’, the country tinged ‘Say Something’ and the funky ‘Midnight Summer Jam’ suggest a more natural, less manipulated sound would work well for the more mature pop star.

And despite all its flaws, there is the strong sense that there is a fine album in here desperate to be released. His concept, as badly realised as it is, isn’t necessarily a bad one. A through line between country, funk and r&b certainly exists, with an under appreciated history, and Timberlake has the talent to draw eyes and ears to it. But ‘country with 808s’, as he described it, is too reductive a rendering of that genre melding concept. In the end, despite intentions, ‘MOTW’ is sonically indistinguishable from what he’s put out before. And that’s the disappointment. He’s coasting. Making bold statements and claims but without doing the hard work to back them up. He lacks the style, subtlety and sophistication of his old guise but the back to nature aesthetic is equally unconvincing. The end result is a disappointing mess.




The Shins ‘The Worm’s Heart’ – Review

6 Feb

‘The Worms Heart’ finds The Shins reimagining, reworking and re-releasing last year’s brilliantly life affirming ‘Heartworms’. You don’t need any excuse to listen to that great album again but ‘The Worm’s Heart’ gives you one anyway. It’s being presented as a sort of stripping back, and for all it’s inspired melodies and typically beguiling lyrics, ‘Heartworms’ did feel a little busy and overly complicated at points, as if James Mercer had spent too long at the stove faffing about with seasoning when the basic ingredients were tasty enough to begin with. It’s a point he conceded in a recent interview where he said ‘Me, sitting there tinkering forever and getting too deep into the details of things — I think that ended up with having some of the Heartworms mixes being overwrought. ‘The Heart’s Worm’ then, in theory, works as an antidote, and its highlights succeed for exactly that reason.

‘Cherry Hearts’, the most spazzy and distracting moment on ‘Heartworms’ is here more simply rendered as a straightforward power pop song. The melody, always engaging, now has the space to truly stretch its legs. ‘Fantasy Island’ works for similar reasons. The 80s influenced song has been stripped of its shoulder pads, double denim and wayfarers and given a more laid back indie pop make over.

But as on ‘Heartworms’, Mercer wasn’t able to suppress his overactive imagination or controlling tendencies for long – despite the best of intentions ‘The Worms Heart’ is actually considerably more dizzying and ‘overwrought’ than the original album. It skits uncomfortably from genre to genre, tempo to tempo, mood to mood, so that the effect is akin to being on the most unpredictable rollercoaster in existence (a simile that makes the album sound considerably more exciting than it actually is).

The original album’s track listing has been flipped so that it now opens with a slouchy version of ‘The Fear’, a gorgeous meditation on an ageing relationship that still feels like a closing statement rather than an opening gambit. ‘Name For You’, therefore becomes the big finale, and likewise it doesn’t really suit its new fixture, nor does the funeral march tempo enhance the song’s naturally bouncy melody or sprightly lyrics. ‘Painting a Hole’, already the weakest song on ‘Heartworms’ from a songwriting stand point doesn’t benefit from a bare bones stripping of the psychedelic sound effects and original, effervescent arrangement. These new versions are so misguided it makes you wonder how a songwriter as gifted as James Mercer could have so little understanding of how best to render his own material. Before ‘Heartworms’ the only time he’d self-produced was on the band’s debut, a muddy sounding collection of endearing but hardly demanding indie rock songs. That record was recorded quickly out of necessity whereas Mercer sat in his home studio recording ‘Heartworms’ and ‘The Worm’s Heart’ for literally years. The difference will be obvious to even the most casual listener.

But all things said, those songs were some of the most engaging indie rock tracks of the past twelve months, and even dressed in odd new clothes that still remains true. All in all ‘The Worm’s Heart’ may be a misguided album, but it’s an enjoyable on . At times in fact, it’s an absolute blast. ‘Heartworms’ slinky disco makeover is elastic and ridiculously catchy (but then the song was already pretty fab in the first place). The reggae-lite lilt of ‘Half a Million’ and the garage rock stomp of ‘Mildenhall’ offer fresh flavours even if they don’t best their original incarnations. ‘Dead Alive’ now has a haunting arrangement to support its eerie lyrics though its melody is stretched and slowed like a record being played at the wrong speed.

This kind of track by track breakdown and comparison is kind of pedantic and nerdy, which perhaps tells you all that you need to know about ‘The Worm’s Heart’ – it’s an exercise in production targeted mainly at The Shins hardcore fans. The kind of people who have spun ‘Heartworms’ to death and are interested in something new to dig their teeth in to. I’m here for that – just not massively impressed with most of the new versions. Which makes me wonder what an unencumbered listener would make of it, in the unusual circumstance that they would hear it before ‘Heartworms’. I can’t see anyone picking this up over the original, and nor should they, but if they did what would they make of it? My main question though, is what could James Mercer have achieved if he’d spent the past twelve months writing new songs instead of pouring over old ones?



Star Wars ‘The Last Jedi’ – Review

13 Jan

(I don’t write film reviews often but I felt compelled to note down some thoughts on the new Star Wars film)

There are a couple of moments in ‘The Last Jedi’ where super villain Kylo Ren gleefully advises ‘let the past die, kill it if you have to’. Despite coming out of the mouth of the film’s chief antagonist, director/writer Rian Johnson seems to have embraced the instruction with almost perverse glee. This is a complex film that takes a fizzing red lightsaber to the past, and does more than chop its hand off. In doing so Johnson has made the most divisive and controversial episode in the Star Wars Saga. He takes many risks, some of which work and many of which don’t. Some of which are devastatingly emotional and some of which are just plain devastating. It moves the franchise forward by breaking it apart from what came before. It’s failures are many and varied but it’s achievements are perhaps more significant if Star Wars is to have life in to a new decade.

The primary criticism of ‘The Force Awakens’ (a fantastic if flawed episode in the series) was that it was TOO nostalgic. But the things it was nostalgic for – classic storytelling, charm and charisma, admirable heroics, practical effects, a sense of magic, optimism – weren’t things tied to any one time period, let alone a single film. Lucas was heavily influenced by his art school colleagues, Kurosawa, Flash Gorden, War films and most importantly Jung’s theories on archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s study of myths, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. Lucas was a student of storytelling. Johnson on the other hand seems to enjoy hacking away at these established modes of expression that influenced Lucas. This is symbolised early on in the film when Luke tosses away his father’s lightsaber. It’s played for cheap laughs but the scene symbolises, either intentionally or not, the seeming disregard Johnson has for legends, trophies and conventions. Johnson is in search of something less tied to mythology and expectation, something more contemporary and complex. That means working against a legacy that George Lucas carefully created.

The whole ‘medichlorean’ philosophy that Lucas designed, and the entire concept of a ‘chosen one’ are purposefully disregarded. Rey is revealed to be a nobody. Her parents were nobody’s. Yet she can, and will, lead the revolution. And here we have just one manifestation of the politics of Johnson’s vision: the democratisation of the force, where you too could one day be a Jedi knight. Any inherited authority, either by sense of personal entitlement or through destiny or a single family dynasty, is thoroughly decried and dismissed. Of course there has always been a political undercurrent to Star Wars – it swelled to the surface in The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith – but The Last Jedi explicitly toys with a grab bag of modern political anxieties – absent parents, multi ethic alliances, feminist leaders usurping man-child upstarts, mutant dictators exploiting the weak and vulnerable, and the flaws of capitalism. To some this will seem welcome, overdue, necessary even, to other it will seem like unfortunate pandering and misplaced, self righteous posturing.

It’s not just the politics that will be divisive. On a purely cinematic level, The Last Jedi is more underwhelming than its predecessors. I’d always had Johnson pegged as something of a stylist, yet one or two memorable shots aside, nothing really strikes a note of individualism. The psychedelic scene where Rey looks down a hall of mirrors and sees… herself, is a perfect example of where a visionary director could have left a mark. Instead the scene is laboured and uninspired, as much of the movie is for its often tiresome two and a half hours. Scenes involving space dog fights and grand explosions have the potential to dazzle but the effect is numbed by sheer repetition. The most stirring of these scenes is right there at the beginning when an unarmed resistance fighter sacrifices herself to release futuristic grenades on to the enemy ship. Every other space battle after this feels emotionally empty and redundant in comparison.

Where Lucas wisely used classical structures and proven character archetypes, Johnson anarchically undercuts and undermines the same tropes. The story is deliberately sprawling and convoluted to the extreme; it dovetails in to several unnecessary subplots that ultimately fizzle out. At the end you’re left wondering – what has actually happened? What did Luke and Rey ACTUALLY do on that Island? What was the POINT of having Poe and Rose go to that casino planet? Did we REALLY need so many space battles? It makes you yearn for the relatively linear plot lines of the original trilogy.

And in that sense, The Last Jedi has less in common with The Empire Strikes Back (the film it was initially compared to) and more in common with the episodic adventure format of ‘Attack of the Clones’. But whilst that film (up until now the most flawed and disliked episode in the Star Wars series) had the zany flavour of a Saturday morning cartoon serial, ‘The Last Jedi’, feels much darker and less generous both stylistically and tonally. For example; the intrigue of the Canto Bight casino planet is only briefly utilised. Before you know it the characters have escaped, and a dimly lit, unambitiously framed chase sequence is underway. Similarly, the visually distinctive planet of Crait feels under-used; compare it to the rich and rewarding landscapes of Attack of the Clones – the water planet of Kamino, the futuristic cityscape of coruscant and the deserty Tatoine. But the prequels sleek modernism is seemingly too earnest to be of any kind of influence on this director. A shame, as their undervalued innovations were more ambitious than anything seen visually in The Last Jedi.

So the film is technically sloppy, superficially unambitious, structurally laboured, politically divisive and tonally off balance. It’s also got plot holes that will disturb the anoraks (you could argue that every Star Wars film since Empire has) but more significantly there are things about it that will alienate the film’s target audience – children. The film easily drags past two hours, and because it opens in fifth gear (with one of several space shot outs), it struggles to build any sort of momentum. It rattles from one overheated set piece to the next until they all just blur in to one frazzled mess. Children will get bored quickly and often. The emotional intensity of several key scenes, adult themes and even, at one point, swearing, may also impede a young audience’s viewing. The dialogue is also far too knowing to sound like it genuinely belongs in the Star Wars universe. The wide eyed, stumbling sincerity of George Lucas’ intergalactic vocabulary is replaced by irony, sarcasm and detachment. The jokes frequently fall flat and even his attempt at cuteness, with the porgs, feels cliched.

Snoke, the one character from Force Awakens who perhaps should have set alarm bells ringing, is a hollow cliche of a 21st century Marvel villain, and he’s mercifully, if Ludicrously, offed about half way through the film. This scene leads to one of the film’s unadulterated moments of ingenuity, when Kylo Ren and Rey team up to defeat a group of rebel guards, in front of a dramatic, blood red back drop. The choreography is slightly stilted but the drama is real, and in that brief scene the ambiguity over Kylo Ren’s future is genuinely intriguing. But by this point Johnson has blurred the lines between morals to such an extent that any kind of decisive choice would feel hollow.

But for all it’s flaws, the actors in The Last Jedi do a tremendous job, almost without exception (Domnhall Gleason hams it up a little too much as Admiral Hux and Kelly Tran has a remarkably blunted impact as new character Rose). Carrie Fischer seemed out of her depth and flustered in the Force Awakens, but she found her feet and gave a brilliant final performance as Leila (we can just ignore the whole flying in space bit). Oscar Isaac is typically charismatic as ‘fly boy’ Poe, Daisy Ridley delivers a moving performance as Rey, and Adam Driver is truly exceptional at expressing Kylo Ren’s inner conflict.

The true star though is undoubtedly Mark Hamil. For all his dogged enthusiasm, he never really impressed with his acting ability in the original trilogy but here he is more than convincing as a reclusive, weary Luke Skywalker. Hamil should be praised even more considering he was essentially asked to butcher his own character’s moral code and optimistic outlook. The Star Wars saga, fundamentally, has always been the personal story of the Skywalker family, and so every scene involving Luke (except at points involving awkward, winking gags) feels like the convincing and necessary continuation of an old journey. The emotional push and pull feels real and moving. After all, Luke has been through a whole world of pain borne out by a constant cycle of loss. The despair he feels in the Last Jedi is a logical end point for a life of disappointment.

The final shot featuring Luke, looking out at, then collapsing under, the twin sunset, poetically mirrors a classic early scene from Episode IV. That initial shot was an expression of optimism, desire and hope. Here it’s used as a sigh of exasperation. I don’t think many fans would have wanted such a sorrowful end for one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history. Yes he’s being heroic and brave but he dies deflated, if not totally defeated, his belief system shattered, with a former pupil bringing the galaxy in to chaos. Essentially all the good work Luke and the rebels did in defeating Vader is undone. It’s convincing but there is the obvious argument that Star Wars has never been about realism, and Luke, the archetypal hero, was meant to be above all that. In fact, the whole world, or Galaxy, of The Last Jedi feels more human and relatable, which is one of the reasons it’s winning plaudits from the critics and perhaps one of the reasons proper fans feel so conflicted. Is it too trivial to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a George Lucas film? That sometimes it doesn’t even feel like it belongs in the same universe? These characters are relatable, their choices understandable, and their depictions believable but the shades in which they are drawn are perhaps too realistic, and therefore undesirable. In the trailer, Luke warned the audience ‘this is not going to go the way you think’. He was right.

But there is one more scene after Luke’s demise, one that restores some of the mystique. Two slave children, glimpsed earlier in Canto Bright, are staring at the stars, playing at being Jedi. Specifically, playing at being the legendary Luke Skywalker. By sacrificing himself, Luke has secured his future as a mythic hero; someone who didn’t bring balance to the force but whose hope, optimism and sacrifices influenced future generations who perhaps could. By putting this scene at the conclusion, Johnson shows that he does have an affinity for the same myths and legends as Lucas after all. He is a dreamer as well. For all its unnecessary moral, political and narrative complexity there is a pretty simple idea at the heart of this story; with persistence and a little belief, good will triumph over bad. In that respect it isn’t so different from A New Hope after all.


My favourite albums of 2017

24 Dec

1. Lorde ‘Melodrama’
2. Mount Eerie ‘A Crow Looked at Me’
3. The War on Drugs ‘A Deeper Understanding’
4. Fleet Foxes ‘Crack Up’
5. Sheer Mag ‘Need to Feel Your Love’
6. Kendrick Lamar ‘Damn’
7. The Drums ‘Abysmal Thoughts’
8. Cigarettes After Sex ‘Cigerettes After Sex’
9. Ryan Adams ‘Prisoner’
10. Bjork ‘Utopia’
11. Loyle Carner ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
12. The Shins ‘Heartworms’
13. Alvvays ‘Anti-socialites’
14. Hodera ‘First things First’
15. Jens Leckman ‘Life Will See You Now’
16. Julien baker ‘Turn Out the Lights’
17. Paramore ‘After Laughter’
18. Moses Sumney ‘Afromanticism’
19. Phoebe Bridgers Stranger in the Alps’
20. Big Thief ‘Capacity’
21. Taylor Swift ‘Reputation’
22. Calvin Harris ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’
23. Wild Pink ‘Wild Pink’
24. Cloud Nothings ‘Life Without Sound’
25. Harry Styles ‘Harry Styles’
26. Run the Jewels ‘Run the Jewels 3’
27. Thundercat ‘Drunk’
28. Slaughter Beach Dog ‘Birdie’
29. Life ‘Popular Music’
30. Childhood ‘Universal High’
31. Wolf Alice ‘Visions of a Life’
32. SZA ‘CTRL’
33. Brand New ‘Science Fiction’
34. Charlie Bliss ‘Guppy’
35. Slowdive ‘Slowdive’
36. Perfume Genius ‘No Shape’
37. Kasabian ‘For Crying out Loud’
38. The National ‘Sleep Well Beast’
39. Princess Nokia ‘1992’
40. Haim ‘Something to Tell You’
41. The Killers ‘Wonderful Wonderful’
42. A Savage ‘Thawing Dawn’
43. Surfer Blood ‘Showdonia’
44. The Menzigers ‘After the Party’
45. Forest Swords ‘Compassion
46. Sorority Noise ‘You’re Not as _ as you think you are’
47. Oso Oso ‘The Ynahon Mixtape’
48. Midland ‘On the Rocks’
49. Kolsch 1989
50. Rose Elinor Dougall ‘Stellular’

My Favourite Singles of 2017

24 Dec

1. Everything Now by Arcade Fire
2. Thinking of a Place by War on Drugs
3. Just Can’t Get Enough by Sheer Mag
4. Why Didn’t You Say That by Lemon Twigs
5. Blinded by Your Grace (part 2) by Stormzy
6. Perfect by Ed Sheeran
7. Slide by Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean
8. Sign of the Times by Harry Styles
9. Ain’t Nothing Changed by Loyle Carner
10. On My Mind by Jorja Smith
11. Are you leaving by Sassy 009
12. Green Light by Lorde
13. Your Love by Magic Gang
14. Third of May by Fleet Foxes
15. Without You by Ryan Adams
16. Popular Music by Life
17. Boys by Charli XCX
18. No one knows me like the piano by Sampha
19. Blood Under My Belt’ by The Drums
20. DNA by Kendrick Lamar
21. Hard Times by Paramore
22. Something to Remember me By by The Horrors
23. The Man by The Killers
24. Vampires by Jason Isabell
25. Near to the wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
26. Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens
27. Wendy’s Trash Can by Rozwell Kid
28. Despecito by Louis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
29. Little of Your Love by Haim
30. Television Romance by Pale Waves
31. Love by Lana Del Rey
32. Bad Bohemian by British Sea Power
33. Bike Dream by Rostam
34. God bless this Acid House by Kasabian
35. In Undertow by Alvvays
36. Too good at goodbyes by Sam smith
37. On Hold by The XX
38. Your Cat by Slaughter Beach Dog
39. Feel the same by Bully
40. Follow the Leader by Foxygen
41. Young Dumb and Broke by Khalid
42. Bobby by Sandy Alex G
43. Emotion by Curls
44. Wall of glass by Liam Gallagher
45. Ascension by DJ Sports
46. Country by Porches
47. Ran by Future Islands
48. All Night by Big Boi
49. Victoria Falls by Flyte
50. You weren’t there anymore by Negative Gemini

Review Roundup

6 Dec

Julian Baker ‘Turn Out the Lights’

‘Turn Out the Lights’ is a haunting meditation on anxiety that rarely diverts from a formula of gently strummed guitar, chilly piano notes, simple melodies and subtle atmospherics. What it lacks in variety it makes up for with sheer dedication to theme. You’ll work out if it’s for you within about a minute of the quietly moving opening combo, ‘Over’ and ‘Appointments’. The latter established Baker’s favoured lyrical mode of blunt confessionals which tread a fine line between relatable pessimism and unflattering self pity. ‘Maybe it’s going to turn out alright / oh, I know that it’ not…’ she half sings as the song draws to a close in a style so unflinchingly honest it’s almost disarming. In its portrayal of depression, abuse and anxiety, and the way it handles these topics so maturely, openly and bluntly ‘Turn Out the Lights’ feels like a significant album for 2017.


Lemon Twigs ‘Brothers of Destruction’

Lemon Twigs are easily the most promising, traditionally set up rock band to breakthrough recently and the prodigious brothers’ new e.p expands upon last year’s debut ‘…Do Hollywood’. Whilst ‘Brothers of Destruction’ is smaller and more intimate in almost every respect (it was recorded quickly at home when the teens were 16 and 18) it suggests multiple possibilities and directions the band could opt for whilst tying them down to none. From the giddy pop of ‘Why Didn’t You Say That’, which recalls Todd Rundgren in his early 70s pomp, to the vaudeville vamp of ‘Intro’; from the torch ballad ‘Beautiful’ to ‘Love and Light’, which is a close approximation of ‘Smiley Smile’ era Beach Boys. What’s most inspiring about the Lemon Twigs, other than their age and talent, is their relentless enthusiasm and abundance of large scale ideas. They’ve talked up their next album, ‘Go to School’ and have already written songs for two further records. ‘Brothers of Destruction’ is an impressive taster of what we can expect in the future.


Sam Smith ‘The Thrill of It’

A couple of years ago Sam Smith was the next big thing. His debut was one of the most revelatory big pop albums of the past decade, thanks largely to his desperately emotive voice and heartfelt lyrics. It was hugely successful, bagging him a handful of number one singles and the James Bond theme (which earned him an Oscar nomination). Long anticipated follow up, ‘The Thrill of it All’, depressingly lowers the stakes by overstating the cliched songwriting and plastic soul production. The likes of ‘One Last Song’ and ‘Midnight Train’ are certainly polished and pretty but there is nothing that cuts like the howling heartbreak of ‘In the Lonely Hour’; only lead single ‘Too Good at goodbyes’ comes close. The album is disappointingly sterile and bloodless compared to its predecessor, and even relatively daring numbers like Yebba duet ‘No Peace’ and the conservative baiting ‘Him’ Lack snarl or bite. Smith sounds as glorious as ever, but ‘The Thrill of It’ unimaginatively draws a very straight line from 90s nu-soul to watery post-Adele balladary.


Weezer ‘Pacific Daydream’ – Review

16 Nov

Like all genius’, Rivers Cumo has constantly teetered on the edge of insanity. His music is often brilliant, often terrible, occasionally brilliant and terrible at the same time. ‘Pacific Daydream’ is no different. The ten track alblum is the follow up to 2016’s assured return to form ‘Weezer (The White Album)’, which prioritised classic songwriting, minimal production and surprisingly mature themes. ‘Pacific Daydream’ however, with its skittish attitudes, multitude of tasteless production choices and zany subject matter, follows more in the lineage of the handful of albums that proceeded The White Album, particularly ‘Raditude’ and The Red Album.

It starts off reasonably promisingly with ‘Mexican Fender’, a song built around razor sharp hooks as much as that play on words in the title. After this though things diverge wildly. The album contains a series of tasteless genre excersises that find Weezer doing their best Maroon Five impression. The E.D.M stylistic touches of lead single ‘Feels like Summer’ are even more unforgivable than the empty platitudes that puff out the lyrics. Even at their worst, you could never accuse Weezer of being this bland and middling in the past. The surprising R&B of ‘The Beach Boys’ will likely leave you scratching your head as well, longing for the relatively assured pop rock of ‘Hash Pipe’ or even ‘Beverley Hills’.

Weezer are in the unusual position of being both overrated and underrated. Their first two albums, as good as they are, are perhaps not as flawless as some critics like to suggest. Neither are The Green Album and ‘Make Believe’ as bad as the same critics say. But like Oasis on this side of the pond, Weezer are in the unfortunate position of living in the shadow of two brilliant records they have no intention of forgetting about anytime soon. Which means they sometimes encourage critics to hold them up to a standard they are never likely to reach again. You can therefore admire them for songs like ‘Feels like Summer’ and ‘The Beach Boys’ which at least try to steer them in a new, modern direction. It may not be what Weezer fans are clamouring for, and it may not play to their strengths, but these songs at least convey a sense of something being risked, and fun being had. Compared to recent, lifeless records put out by the likes of Foo Fighters and Muse, or more contemporary acts such as Catfish and the Bottlemen and Nothing But Thieves – that’s something worth celebrating.